Putin’s War has seen a wastage of equipment unseen since the Yom Kippur War. Russia has lost at least 700 tanks and 1200 armored vehicles destroyed or captured over the last two months. Israel lost about 200 tanks destroyed (over half of the Israeli tanks put out of action were repaired in the field and returned to combat) in its two-week war in 1973. For more information on the losses, see Ukraine Now Has More Tanks Than Russia and Things Look Worse In the Future. As Russia prepares for the next phase in its war to conquer Ukraine, it struggles to make up shortages in equipment.
Some equipment can be drawn from storage depots, but many of the depots are rumored to have no regular maintenance, components like optics have been stripped and sold on the black market, and most of the available vehicles are obsolete.
More photos from that Russian military storage depot in the Far East. 2/https://t.co/AiYhbZJ4mH pic.twitter.com/5Au7nMGHGz
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) January 14, 2021
Photo from a different tank graveyard in Siberia. 4/https://t.co/A04e2TVabF pic.twitter.com/xmhaNG9qly
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) January 14, 2021
Photos from a tank graveyard in Siberia. 6/https://t.co/wyMvH5kDYW pic.twitter.com/ATSb4Pw5bT
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) January 14, 2021
Photos of the 227th military storage base in Buryatiya. A bunch of old T-62M and what looks like T-90As (could be T-72B3s) ready to re-fight WWII. As part of Vostok-2018, Russia brought a number of T-62Ms out of storage and moved them around the country. https://t.co/N3u0uxPBaW pic.twitter.com/S5KjjAswX8
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) October 21, 2018
Bringing these up to operational readiness will pose a challenge for Russia’s defense industry.
It will be more of a challenge because of the effects of sanctions.
It is reported that the two largest tank factories in Russia have run out of foreign made components.
Sanctions imposed on Russia to cripple its economy may be starting to hurt its military capabilities.
The country’s primary armored vehicle manufacturer appears to have run out of parts to make and repair tanks, according to a Facebook post by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Citing “available information,” it reported state-owned company Uralvagonzavod, which builds tanks such as the T-72B3, has had to temporarily cease production in Nizhny Tagil.
#Russia’s only tank manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, has stopped its production. The main reason for this is a lack of component parts. pic.twitter.com/hss7YrQaSU
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 22, 2022
In addition to Uralvagonzavod, one of the largest tank manufacturers in the world with reportedly 30,000 employees last year, the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant has also run out of foreign-made parts.
“The specified companies specialize in the manufacturing and repair of tanks, as well as other armored equipment needed by the Russian Federation armed forces,” the General Staff wrote in its Facebook post.
Western allies, including the United States and the European Union, have ordered a complete halt to the export of certain components like microchips to Russia as part of an escalation package of sanctions.
So-called dual-use goods have been banned, since they can be employed for both military as well as civilian applications.
“Our aim is to reduce the Kremlin’s capacity to wage war on its neighbor,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explained earlier this month.
Yes, some will be skeptical because the report is from the Ukrainian military command. However, I would point out that highlighting these difficulties works against Ukraine’s interests in trying to push reluctant donors, like Germany, off the dime. So they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Russian media, for instance, have reported on the shutdown at the Uralvagonzavod factory and attributed it to sanctions (use Google translate).
Russian truck and auto manufacturers are also shutting down because of the lack of foreign components. The deficiencies in Russia’s auto manufacturing have been apparent for a while as civilian vehicles from Russia are being used to fill the gaps left by destroyed or broken down military vehicles.
Retweeted this but probably should have put this here. This should terrify the Russians if it means what it could mean. They are already running out of trucks. https://t.co/YaVdw406ph
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) March 5, 2022
The component shortages are compounding a problem that was already severe early in Russia’s campaign.
The problem has gotten a whole worse. As the wider war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the Ukrainian army and sister services have destroyed no fewer than 485 Russian trucks.
That’s more than a tenth of the trucks that belong to the Russian army’s 10 “material-technical support” brigades, which haul supplies, ammo and fresh troops from rail-heads to front-line formations.
A shortage of trucks, growing ever more severe as the Ukrainians knock out more and more of the vehicles, was evident in the first 10 days of the invasion as Russia began transporting civilian vehicles into the war zone, probably in an effort to make up for losses of military trucks.
Embattled Russian logistics troops are spooked. “Reluctance to maneuver cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel,” the U.K. Defense Intelligence Agency reported on Thursday.
A desperate attempt to make good losses by commandeering civilian trucks could cause as many new problems as it seems to solve old ones. There’s a reason armies buy custom-made trucks rather than simply painting civilian models brown or green.
A military truck is tougher than a civilian truck, features more redundancy and may even come with armor to protect its crew and passengers. Military trucks tend to burn diesel rather than gas like some civie trucks do. Militaries buy the same models of truck in huge numbers in order to simplify support and repair.
You can’t swap, say, a civilian Ural-375D for a military Ural-4320 and expect the same performance in the brutal conditions of a mechanized war. Likewise, swapping in a mixed bag of random civie vehicles for a single-model military fleet hands you a whole new set of maintenance problems.
The impact spills over to such things as night vision goggles and munitions that are heavily dependent upon parts made in the US and Western Europe. A study by the Royal United Services Institute found that all of Russia’s advanced precision weapons were totally reliant on Western or Chinese components. This quote is from page 11 of the study.
The 9M727 cruise missile – fired from the Iskander-K – is an example of one of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems, able to manoeuvre at low altitude to a target and strike with considerable precision. In order to achieve this the missile must carry a computer able to ingest data from various inertial and active sensors and command links and translate these into instructions to manipulate the missile’s control surfaces. The authors physically inspected one of these computers recovered from a crashed 9M727 during fieldwork in April. This computer is roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper and sits inside a heat shield able to withstand the pressure as the missile accelerates and the heat that engulfs the system. The computer must be remarkably robust, its components able to continue to function even as the structure around it is warped by temperature changes. This requires highly specialised materials and components. Of the seven socket attachment points allowing data to be moved through the heat shield, one is of Soviet-era design and manufactured in Russia. The remaining six are all products of US companies. The rails connecting the circuit boards to the computer housing, which must maintain the alignment of the components under immense forces, are similarly of US manufacture. The circuit boards themselves are sourced from the US.53
The 9M727 is not unique in its dependence upon foreign manufactured components. Technical inspection of Russian weapons and vehicles, conducted by the Central Scientific Research Institute for Armaments of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, reveals that there is a consistent pattern across all major Russian weapons systems recovered from the battlefield. The 9M949 guided 300-mm rocket that forms the backbone of Russian precision artillery as a munition for the Tornado-S multiple launch rocket system uses a US-made fibre-optic gyroscope for its inertial navigation.54 The Russian TOR-M2 air-defence system – one of the most potent short-ranged air-defence systems in the world – relies on a British-designed oscillator in the computer controlling the platform’s radar.55 This pattern is true in the Iskander-M, the Kalibr cruise missile, the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile, and many more besides. It is also true of much tactical battlefield equipment. An examination by the technical labs of the Ukrainian intelligence community of the Aqueduct family of Russian military radios (R-168-5UN-2, R-168-5UN-1 and R-168-5UT-2), which form the backbone of the Russian military’s tactical communications, for instance, reveals critical electronic components manufactured in the US, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea and Japan.56 The pattern is universal. Almost all of Russia’s modern military hardware is dependent upon complex electronics imported from the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Israel, China and further afield
RUSI Special Report: Operation Z The Death Throes of an Imperial Delusion on Scribd
It isn’t like their munitions were all that good when the foreign-made components were easy to come by; see A 60% Dud Rate for Precision-Guided Munitions Explains a Lot of Russia’s Problems in Ukraine.
As this war goes on, the Russian situation will get more precarious. The frontline armor vehicles lost in Ukraine can’t be made up from depots or factories. Russia hasn’t shown the ability or inclination to attempt to repair vehicles forward and return them to service. You can’t look at the number of abandoned/captured Russian vehicles and not feel that when a vehicle breaks down, the crew abandons it and moves on.
Commandeering civilian vehicles for the war effort is, at best, a half-measure. Most civilian vehicles’ drive trains and suspension aren’t sufficiently robust to operate in a combat environment, and repairing them is out of the question.
All of this makes the next couple of weeks critical for Russia. While Ukraine has access to resupply from security partners, Russia is on its own. Russia either has to make gains on the ground that will bring Ukraine to the bargaining table, or it is time for Plan B, whatever that might be.